Tanzania is well known as one of Africa’s very best safari countries. But it also ranks among the continent’s most popular hiking destinations, thanks largely to the presence of snowcapped Mt Kilimanjaro, a bucket-list attraction for most dedicated climbers and peak baggers. Other world-class hikes in Tanzania include the climb up Mt Meru, the nighttime ascent of the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai, and the lushly beautiful Empakaai Crater.


Hike to Uhuru Peak, Mt Kilimanjaro

Hiker at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

This is the big one. Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain, and the multiday ascent to Uhuru Peak is undoubtedly the most iconic hike in Tanzania or indeed anywhere on the continent. Kilimanjaro is also the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, and its summit is the highest that can be reached without technical skills or experience. That doesn't mean that climbing this dormant volcano is easy. Subzero temperatures and high altitudes make Kilimanjaro a demanding hike, but the sense of achievement and exhilaration associated with standing proud on the Roof of Africa are second to none.

  • Distance: Most trails cover around 65km to 80km (40mi to 50mi)
  • Days required: At least 5 days, but 6 or 7 are better to acclimatize to the altitude and increase your odds of summiting
  • Total incline: Depending on the route, around 5,000m to 6,000m (16,404ft to 19,685ft)
  • Highest point: 5,895m/19,340ft
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Average cost: US$1,500 to US$2,500 per person depending on the route and number of days
  • Tip: The Marangu Route is the only one with huts, but it is also by far the most crowded. You’ll have a more rewarding experience on a quieter route such as Machame, Rongai or Lemosho.

Mt Kilimanjaro Tours

Descend to the Base of Empakaai Crater, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Empekaai crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

One of northern Tanzania’s most underrated scenic highlights, this 8km-/5mi-wide volcanic caldera resembles a smaller version of Ngorongoro Crater, but without the crowds. A steep footpath snakes down forested cliffs to the crater floor, where an emerald lake is tinged pink by large flocks of flamingo. Other wildlife includes buffalo, bushbuck, blue monkey and even the occasional elephant. In clear weather, the crater rim offers tremendous views to Ol Doinyo Lengai and Lake Natron.

  • Distance: 5km/3mi
  • Hours required: Around 2 hours
  • Total incline: 300m/985ft
  • Highest point: 3,200m/10,500ft
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Average cost: An Empakaai visit is normally incorporated into a full safari itinerary that includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and it won't add significantly to the cost of that
  • Tip: This is one Tanzania hiking destination where it’s definitely worth carrying binoculars to get good views of the diverse forest and aquatic birdlife

Empakaai Crater Tours

Mt Meru Ascent, Arusha National Park

Hikers on Mount Meru with a backdrop of Little Meru

Overshadowed in most respects by Kilimanjaro, Africa’s fifth-highest mountain provides a scenic backdrop to Tanzania’s Northern safari circuit capital Arusha. A dormant volcano, Mt Meru is also a popular goal for multiday Tanzania hikes, both in its own right and as an acclimatizer for Kilimanjaro. The views over the semi-collapsed caldera toward Kilimanjaro are stunning, and wildlife is plentiful.

  • Distance: 45km/28mi
  • Days required: 2 to 4 days
  • Total incline: 3,500m/11,480ft
  • Highest point: 4,562m/14,967ft
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Average cost: US$900 to US$1,500 per person
  • Tip: If you don't have time for a multiday Mt Meru climb, a lovely day hike leads through the forested footslopes into the spectacular caldera via its collapsed eastern wall

Mt Meru Tours

Climb Volcanic Ol Doinyo Lengai, Lake Natron

Symmetrical cone of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano surrounded by clouds

Ol Doinyo Lengai, a Maasai name meaning ‘Mountain of God’, is an active volcano set in the Rift Valley floor close to Lake Natron. It has erupted on several recent occasions, and the crater encloses a stark but otherworldly landscape of ash cones, lava pools and steam vents. The ascent is possibly the most demanding of day hikes in Tanzania. The barren, shadeless slopes are brutal in the heat of the day, for which reason most people climb at night, and the steep descent can be tough on the joints.

  • Distance: 12km/7mi
  • Hours required: 10 to 12 hours
  • Total incline: 1,650m/5,413ft
  • Highest point: 2,960m/9,711ft
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Average cost: Stand-alone hikes out of Arusha typically cost US$600 to US$1,000 per person including a night or two at Natron. It’s more common to incorporate a hike into a longer northern Tanzanian safari.
  • Tip: Set off shortly before midnight, ideally close to full moon, allowing 5 to 6 hours to reach the caldera by sunrise

Ol Doinyo Lengai Tours

Day Hike, Mt Kilimanjaro

Snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro peak seen from Shira Plateau

For those who can’t afford the time, effort or expense of a full Kilimanjaro climb, a day hike on the lower slopes is a great way to get close-up views of the snowcapped peak. Several options are available, but our favorite is the Shira Day Trail, which runs through a flat tract of Afro-alpine moorland at a breathtaking average altitude of 3,500m/11,480ft.

  • Distance: 8.5km/5.3mi (Shira Day Trail)
  • Hours required: 2 to 3 hours
  • Total incline: 200m/656ft
  • Highest point: 3,600m/11,811ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Average cost: US$200 to US$250 per person
  • Tip: You’re most likely to get a clear view of Kilimanjaro from the Shira Plateau in the early to midmorning

Mt Kilimanjaro Day Trips

Best Time for Hiking in Tanzania

Climatically the best times of year for climbing Kilimanjaro, and for most other hikes in Tanzania, are June to October and January to February when it is drier. June to October tends to be the warmer of the two periods, which is a bonus on Kilimanjaro, but January and February are likely to be quieter in terms of other tourists. Tanzania hiking conditions, especially on Kilimanjaro, are less than ideal in the wetter months of March to May and November to December. If you climb Kilimanjaro during these months, use the Rongai Route, which approaches the summit from the drier northern slopes.

By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

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